Girls! Girls! Girls!

Lately, Jack has been singing what he calls the “Lady Song”. While singing it he moves his arms slowly and gracefully.  His movements are almost balletic,  similar to the flowing arm movements of a traditional Hula dancer.  And in a very soft, gentle voice, he will sing something along the lines of,

“Lady. Flowers. Beautiful. Christmas.”

It is always slow and quiet and soothing. He often requests that I sing the “Lady Song” (which I don’t actually know) when he wants to be lulled into sleep.

Then there is Kristin Davis. No, not the cute brunette from Sex and the City—  the former “Manhattan Madam” of the glossy pink lips, bleached blonde hair, and pronounced cleavage that ran for Governor of New York State.  When I am checking the mail, I frequently give some of the junk to the boys to peruse, just to keep them occupied. They will happily flip through a Land’s End catalog or look at the Phat Albert’s circular while we wait for the elevator or while I search for my keys.  During the lovely Ms. Davis’s campaign we were inundated with soft focus, glamour shots of her stamped with provocative campaign slogans.  One day I handed one over to Jack.

He was immediately smitten.

He gripped her head shot in his little hand. He stared at it. He kissed it. For a few weeks he would ask for his “Lady” picture before he left the house.  In his seat, in the lower-deck of the stroller, he would clutch it tightly and gaze at it. More than once he fell asleep in the stroller, her photo pressed to his cheek.

I was shocked and a bit horrified by these obvious demonstrations of clear ideas about gender and female beauty that my child had developed at such a tender age.  It didn’t come from me, of that I’m pretty sure. So where did it come from?  Could this be nature at work?

And it’s not just Jack.  Once when Zeke was about 15 months old, we rode the Q train into Manhattan pretty early on a Saturday morning.  Sitting across from us were two youngish “ladies” who were wearing lots of makeup and not much clothing.  They were clearly heading home after a fun-filled Friday night. Zeke was sitting in my lap while I stared into the vague middle distance, lost in thought, when my attention was caught by the enthusiastic cooing and clapping of my young son.  He was mesmerized by these women. He stared intently as one of them applied lip gloss.  He flirted with them, playing peek-a-boo, smiling broadly, and waving.

The women were completely charmed.  They laughed and smiled back, waved at him and exchanged giggly comments about how adorable he was until they reached their stop. When they got off of the train, Zeke followed them with his eyes, waving, and eagerly shouting “Bye-Bye!”, clearly trying to extract the last bit of their alluring feminine attention.

Recently, we went to a gathering at a family friend’s house.  There were two tweenish girls there. They were all braces and lip gloss, skinny jeans and flat-ironed hair, and they sat sullenly at the margins of the party, rolling their eyes, slouching and texting.  As I mentally thanked the good Lord that I do not have daughters, I watched Zeke size them up and wander into their general vicinity. He lingered casually with his Lego Star Wars guys, just close enough that they just might talk to him.

Of course they noticed him.  He’s an adorable, floppy-haired, pink-cheeked little moppet.

“Oh look at him! Look at those blue eyes!” they squealed. “What are you playing with, cutie?”

And Zeke went in full force, talking to them at length about the coolest possible topic he could think of– STAR WARS! It was an endless incomprehensible monologue and he shifted nervously as he described in complex detail the way he was setting up his guys and the incredible adventures they were having. My heart ached for him.  I could hear, from the lowered pitch of his voice and the way he was peppering his speech with “totally cools” and “that’s so awesome, rights?” how hard he was striving to impress these girls, and as I watched their eyes glaze over and listened to their perfunctory “uh-huh’s” and as I heard  Zeke’s speech drag on and on and on, it was all so painfully clear:

Girls are going to happen to him.

This little scene will be re-enacted again and again and again and his poor little heart is going to hurt, and I’m just his Mom, and nothing I say is ever going to make girls anything less than devastatingly hard.

Then one of them interrupted him and said,

“So, which one of us do you think is prettier? Me right? Don’t  you think that I look just like Megan Fox?”

And instantly, I wanted to cut a bitch.  Why do girls have to be so much more sophisticated and freaking conniving than sweet, sincere little boys?  Doesn’t she see how hard he’s trying? Couldn’t she play along just a little bit, and make him feel good about himself?

And that was when I noticed the chocolate ice-cream painting a pencil-thin mustache across Zeke’s face. Without thinking, I automatically dipped a napkin into my water glass, walked over, and began dabbing him clean.

Time slowed as I noticed the smirks emerge on the girls’ faces and watched Zeke squirm angrily away from me.  How much more uncool had I just unconsciously made my poor little boy feel? And are these the roles we are just going to fall into without thinking, moms and sons, girls and boys, awkwardly interacting until somehow self-confidence takes over for him and this stuff doesn’t feel so fraught? Or is this all just me?

A few weeks later, we took the boys to First Saturday at the Brooklyn Museum.  Zeke and his Dad were off checking out the galleries while Jack and I listened to jazz in the atrium.  Jack was dancing when I noticed him notice a curly-maned brunette in a cute red flapper-style dress. She was sitting alone, bopping her head to the music. He walked directly up to her, passionately embraced her legs, and exclaimed loudly,

“I like you!”

She melted instantly, beamed at him, and gave him a hug back. Then she took his little hands in hers and danced with him for the rest of the song. I glowed with joy. It felt so good to watch someone appreciate my delightful little boy, just as much as I do.

It occurred to me as I watched them dancing, that when we are very young, we are naturally sincere, but that it is not until we are a bit more mature that we really appreciate and value sincerity.

My boys are going to reach out to all kinds of girls, some of them the plastic polar opposite of what I would deem appropriate. And I can’t do much more than watch uncomfortably and assure them, if and when they’ll listen, that there are girls out there who will appreciate them for just exactly who they are. Even if that is the same corny shit that I found completely unhelpful when I was young and insecure and my Mom said it to me.

I’ve got my role to play.



10 responses

  1. Too young!! I am sure Zeke and Jack will have no trouble capturing hearts..they have done pretty well so far. Every female I know is putty in their hands, including me! Beautifully written and illustrated ladies.

    March 2, 2011 at 11:16 am

  2. Thanks Jane! It’s the ones who aren’t puttified by them and leave them with hurt feelings that I am worried about! I can protect them from a lot of things, but not from insecurity or broken hearts. It’s so hard when you realize that things like that are ahead of them. They are so confident in their own skin, and so fully themselves now, and I wish they could be that way forever, but I know that it isn’t really possible.

    March 2, 2011 at 2:39 pm

  3. victoria

    Hi! I saw your comment in the Pun site. You said you needed a laugh today. I hope your day improve because you improved mine! I really enjoyed your article and look forward to reading the others. I have a 6 year old boy who can be a charmer but who can also be a challenge as he lives with Asperger’s.
    Very late in my time zone, but tomorrow I’ll be reading your older articles.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:21 pm

  4. Thanks so much Victoria! Every time we get positive feedback, it makes us remember why we got started in the first place. Having a creative outlet and providing a smile break in other people’s days makes in all worthwhile! My day did improve, by the way. I was very stressed out about something, that ended up being not such a big deal after all.
    Best to you and your son. They are all a combination of charming and challenging, I think. I just cross my fingers and hope for the days when the charms outweigh the challenges.
    Thanks for reading!

    March 3, 2011 at 8:47 am

    • victoria

      Complet agreement, on kids being a combination of traits. (As we all are, come to think of it…)
      Glad the day got better…never seems like it will, in the moment, but, stuff often irons its self out. I hope that didn’t come accross preachy, I have to remember the adage myself.
      Compliments to your artist! I have a bachelor’s in Fine Arts and I love portraits as subject matter but they are nontheless a challenge.
      I write from Northern Québec where we’re ‘enjoying’ negative 30 weather…
      I have to marvel at the internet that it allows people so far a part to meet.
      Happy week end!

      March 3, 2011 at 11:02 am

  5. Wow! Negative 30! I can’t even imagine! It was in the positive 30’s here yesterday and I was whining all day about the blustery weather! The artist is my sister, Molly Schulman. She lives in Los Angeles, and doesn’t get to see the boys that much, so her portraits of them are a particularly impressive show of her skill! It is a real thrill to be able to work on this with her. Have a great weekend!

    March 4, 2011 at 9:12 am

  6. lovely post 🙂
    ive been nannying for almost 2 yrs and met hundreds of kids during that time, and the thing i still cant get my head round is how young sexuality comes into play with kids, ive met two very definite gay seven year old boys and had two year old girls wolf-whistling builders! So much for the age on innocence!!
    C-C xx

    March 12, 2011 at 4:14 pm

  7. Thanks C-C! Hope you keep reading!
    It’s amazing, both of my boys showed a distinct interest in girls from before they could talk. It blows my mind every day! Getting to observe this kind of thing a little more objectively is probably the best (and most fascinating) training you could have if you ever decide to be a parent. I feel like I had to sink or swim and they are always catching me by surprise!

    March 12, 2011 at 5:56 pm

  8. I quite enjoyed this post! My son is 18 and will soon be graduating from high school. He has two younger sisters and a street filled with girls, girls, girls… and I am so grateful. I remember when he went to nursery school and the boys rough-housed in side-by-side play (and when things didn’t go their way, they tested out a little physical force on each other). The girls chatted endlessly without coming up for air about the roles they each played in make-believe worlds (and when that didn’t work out, they would try out statements like, “I won’t be your friend if you don’t….”). But flash forward and I think that with all those girls around, he might have learned how to negotiate both worlds without leaving (or receiving) too many ‘ouches’. May it be the same for Zeke!

    March 23, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    • Thanks! I am consistently amazed by watching my little people develop and it is my deepest wish for them to be sensitive and considerate young men. Thanks for checking out our work. Good luck to your sun!

      March 24, 2011 at 8:01 am

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